We did a post on Reverse Freedom Rides after Florida governor Ron DeSantis sent several refugee families to Martha’s Vineyard as a political stunt. Read that post here.
Governors in Texas, Florida and Arizona have been shipping migrants who show up in their states to cities and towns, including D.C., for most of this year. More than 9,000 people have been dropped in the District, officials say, and the scheme got more visibility earlier this month, when two busloads of migrants were dropped off at Vice President Kamala Harris’ residence.
But when two planeloads of migrants were dropped in Martha’s Vineyard, it sounded familiar to a few historians, including those at the JFK Presidential Library. They pointed out the similarities to the so-called Reverse Freedom Rides, which saw Black people bused from the South to places such as Hyannis, Massachusetts, where the Kennedy family compound was.
The chief historian of that ’60s episode said he sees parallels with today’s situation.
Clive Webb, professor of modern American history at the University of Sussex, said the intent of the Reverse Freedom Rides was basically similar to that behind the present-day busing and flying of migrants to “blue” areas of the country.
Segregationists organized the bus rides “as a way of saying, ‘If you really care about the well-being of African Americans, and all citizens, then you will be a welcoming host for these people.’”
The Civil Rights-era rides were the brainchild of segregationist George Singelmann, the head of the New Orleans Citizens Council, formerly known as the White Citizens Council. The name was formulated as a response to the Freedom Rides, in which northerners headed to the South to help Black people exercise their voting rights.
Singelmann played coy in contemporaneous news reports, pointing out that Black people signed up for the rides themselves, saying the news media, the NAACP and others had “constantly maligned and chastised us” for “our treatment” of Black people. “For such people who are not satisfied and felt oppressed,” he said, “we thought we would afford an opportunity to go to a Northern area where conditions are supposedly better.”
The Citizens Councils thought the arrival of Black people in the District “would be a cause of great embarrassment to officials, because it would expose the limitations of their own support of African American rights,” Webb said.
D.C. was specifically targeted because of its status as the nation’s capital. The home-state residences of pro-integration members of Congress were also popular destinations. Singelmann at one point called Minnesota Sen. Hubert Humphrey “a door prize.”
“Dumping indigent African Americans at the holiday home to the Kennedy family was one thing, but bringing them to Washington, D.C., was a calculated move to put them at, not quite literally, at the doorstep of the White House,” Webb said.
Read the rest here.